In yet another forlorn attempt to do justice to a dozen or so books which really do deserve to be mentioned, here are some quickies. More to follow soon.
David Isaak: Shock and Awe
This is a Macmillan New Writing publication, and it's unusual in that series (though not unique) in that it's by an American. How come? Basically, the Americans thought the theme was too hot to handle. Said one editor: 'The fact that the bad guys are Americans makes this a hard sell for us.' See David's blog for the backstory.
Essentially Shock and Awe is a thriller: modern, hard-edged, full of action, professional in its approach and skills; there are some superb descriptions of action at sea. It's long, but then they all are these days. It's intelligent: the author asks questions that other US writers don't care to ask; and it is deeply cynical, with good reason, about the motives of the US government. The book is also sensitive: we get, for instance, an insight into the mind of a lapsed Christian who has had an abortion. And either David Isaak has written before, or else he's been practising.
This is not a book to read if you're the kind of person who lies awake at night worrying about the future. But if you're the normal don't-give-a-shit type, this will entertain you.
Gladys Hobson: Awakening Love
A total contrast to the above. Awakening Love is a book for women readers, undoubtedly. And Englishwomen of a certain age, at that.
I read this book before publication, and was pleased to provide a supportive quote for the cover. Modern young women have absolutely no idea what it was like to grow up and come of age in the 1940s and '50s. Many young women then (though by no means all) lived in almost total ignorance of the 'facts of life', and the result, all too often, was disaster. I was particularly impressed by this portrait of a rather naive young woman struggling to make her way in the world.
Further details and sample chapters et cetera are on the publisher's web site.
Steve Almond: (Not That You Asked)
Another total contrast. This is a non-fiction (sort of) book, a collection of essays, by an American humorist with a pretty good track record. It's subtitle, or principal title perhaps, is Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions. (I like that comma after Exploits; which reveals one of my own obsessions.)
Humor, or humour as we Limies have it, is the key here. The book is indeed droll, and it would make a good gift for a bookish, mid-Atlantic sort of friend. Mr Almond often makes fun of himself, which is thoughtful of him, and you can read extracts and stuff on his web site.
Charles McCarry: The Tears of Autumn
In the UK, Overlook Press continue to put out new editions of Charles McCarry's masterly series of espionage novels; the series has been discussed here before. One of the latest (scheduled, I see, for February 2008) is The Tears of Autumn. It was first published in 1975, and it provides one of the earliest and most convincing explanations (other than the official one) for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
This novel has been widely recognised as one of the best by one of the most thoughtful political, and mercifully non-literary, novelists of our time. And that's all you need to know really. If you haven't read any McCarry, start at the beginning of the canon and go on to the end.
Finally, this blog does not really do poetry as I am completely unqualified as a judge, but a couple of volumes have come my way which are noteworthy as examples of what can be done these days for comparatively little money.
Time was when a poet had little chance of publication. But now, as we all know, publication is a fairly cheap option. And poets who go around giving talks and public readings and the like can carry a few copies with them, and sell on the spot.
First example: The Primrose Path and other poems, by Bob Taylor. The poet here is a retired Yorkshire miner, one who had a less than happy time in the miners' strike of 1984, but survived it to become a poetically inspired Christian. Details and samples at Magpie's Nest Publishing.
The second example also features Bob Taylor, with Gladys Hobson and guest writers. Northern Lights is a collection of poems and stories from the north of England. A number of writers here are survivors of the Christopher Hill debacle. This is also a Magpie's Nest publication.